THAT SPECIAL place in hell reserved for the architects of the mortgage-foreclosure crisis -mortgage brokers who made millions of risky mortgages and investment companies that repackaged and sold them in an investment Ponzi scheme -is growing.

According to the Mortgage Lender Implode-o-meter (http://ml-implode.com), which tracks the financial casualties, 226 major lenders have gone bust since 2006. We're not crying for them.

A separate room in hell should be built for the wave of companies that has stepped in to scam homeowners facing foreclosure. These firms take advantage of desperate people by providing false hope, promising quick fixes to their crisis, charging big fees for doing nothing but compounding people's misery.

That's in part why the Daily News has produced a two-page consumer's guide to surviving foreclosure that appears in today's paper. See Page 12.

The information is culled from those on the front lines of the mortgage meltdown: banking and government experts, consumer credit and legal counselors, and others who know the right sources of help.

The crisis is hitting consumers who were steered into mortgages, mostly subprime loans, that looked affordable at the outset, but were essentially booby-trapped with rates and terms, few explained fully, that would transform these mortgages from a dream of home ownership to a nightmare.

Now foreclosure vultures are out there trying to make money from people's despair. (The U.S. attorney's office wants to hear from you if you've encountered such scams and frauds: 215-861-8200.)

Although there are few quick fixes if someone is facing foreclosure, there is a lot of serious help. Our guide points the way to agencies and numbers that consumers can use to try to save their house without having to worry about being scammed.

Taking action is the most important thing.

How big a problem is this? In Philadelphia, the sheriff's office reported earlier this week that sheriff's sales of foreclosed homes actually declined last year - to 2,041. We're not scheduling a parade just yet: For one thing, the city's foreclosure rates have been much higher than the national average for the past few years, so this decline doesn't suggest we've solved the problem. Indeed, suggesting that we can relax about this is a dangerous message to be sending.

And those on the front lines, like credit-counseling agencies, are reporting steep increases in the number of people seeking foreclosure help. Besides, every single foreclosure is a rip in the fabric of the city. A single foreclosure is bad news for a street; a wave of them can devastate whole communities.

The other damage done by foreclosures is more subtle: It steers people away from home ownership. We've learned from this crisis that the idea of home ownership at any cost is not a wise one. But it's still the best way for many families to build wealth. Today's foreclosure guide can help not only those in crisis, but those who want to keep their investment safe. *